God and Evil (Part 1): The Thorn
The “Problem of Evil” has always been a thorn in the side of theologians. But that does not mean it is unanswerable. There are Biblical ways to answer the issue that are internally consistent, but to some, they are unsatisfying because they don’t buy into the theology. What I hope to do here is briefly, yet thoroughly (I pray for both, I’ll settle for either), explain God’s relationship to evil from the Biblical perspective. This presentation is the majority belief among theologians with some variations, but in general it is the same. There are a other “theodicies” (explanations of God’s relationship to evil) out there, with which I am not fully familiar, because this one is internally and biblically consistent (although I do hope to learn more about the other positions at some point in time). What will follow is commonly known as the “Free-Will Argument.”
The “Free-Will Argument” is summed up in: God created man with purpose and free-will, both of which are good. Man used his free-will to violate God’s purpose for him, and evil resulted. “God cannot accomplish two ends simultaneously–give humans free will and remove evil–without contradicting his intentions to do one or the other. Since God cannot do both simultaneously, he is not guilty of the evil present in the world, for no moral agent is guilty for failing to do that which he could not do.” . But this leaves some unanswered questions: What about natural disasters? What about innocent children who have done no wrong? What about the genocide/ethnic cleansing ordered by God in the Old Testament book of Joshua? And I’m certain there are more.
I don’t think it is wise to try to cover all of the above in one post. It will take too long to finish writing, and you won’t read it all. So I’ll chop it up into chewable chunks, and choose the most challenging to champion (and I’ll try to entertain you with alliteration). In this post I’ll just outline the problem…
The Crux of the Problem of Evil
Here are the basic premises of the “Evil” argument against God: If the God of the Bible exists, He must be wholly good, and all-powerful. If evil exists, then either 1) God is not wholly good (because He created or does not prevent evil), 2) God is not all-powerful (because He cannot prevent evil), or 3) God does not exist. Evil exists, therefore, either 1, 2, or 3 above must be true. It is possible to say that evil does not exist (e.g. Christian Science), but the existence of evil is self-evident. Try telling someone who is hurting that evil does not exist…in doing so they will think you are evil, so you will prove yourself wrong.
Those that choose to believe God is not wholly Good are small in number. They can be considered the “far-right” of the spectrum, such as “hyper-calvinists”. They often say that God purposes every act, good or evil, to fulfill his will or that God “causes” evil. This sacrifices the free-will of man and God’s goodness all to God’s determinism. However, the Free-Will argument, does not sacrifice God’s sovereignty, in fact, it requires it. But it does not charge God with evil.
Most of those who chose not to “punt” God, opt for the “God is not all-powerful” perspective. This can be seen in much of modern liberal theology. They will sacrifice God’s foreknowledge of events, or God’s control over current or future events. Ultimately, God has to “clean-up” man’s sin and the evil in the world, because He doesn’t see it coming or cannot do anything about it in the moment. The Free-Will Argument requires God to be as He is described in the Bible, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving and just.
In my experience, premise 3, the God of the Bible does not exist, is the most common. This usually results in some form of agnosticism, and in the extreme, atheism. But this is not necessary. There is a way to keep the God of the Bible and all of His biblical characteristics as a coherent belief in a world with evil. Which I hope to demonstrate in the coming posts.
Be forewarned: there is no intellectual understanding that can ease the pain that is the result of evil. The most accurate, well-considered, Biblical arguments for the existence of evil, cannot remotely ease the pain of suffering. Actually, merely tossing out a “God is in control” can cause the suffering to be worse. We are called to love others through their suffering, by listening to them, mourning with them, serving them and praying with/for them. The posts that follow will serve as the foundation for this, it won’t be a Godly ointment that heals all wounds. To use it as such would be wrong.
My prayer is that the posts that will follow will be beneficial for those that adopt any of the above premises, as well as believers who still struggle with the problem. So let’s start there….how are your beliefs challenged by the existence of evil? What are some of your questions about God and evil? (Please try to refrain from “answering” your own or others questions…lest we run out of things to talk about…).
 Feinberg, J. S. “Theodicy”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Ed. Edited by Walter Elwell. (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001). pg. 1185.
Posted on January 8, 2011, in All Posts, Apologetics, Philosophy, Sovereignty, Theology and tagged Epikouros, Free-Will Argument, God and Evil, Problem of Evil, Theodicy. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.